How I plucked up the courage to haggle on the high street and saved myself £1,000

Like most Britons, I hate haggling. Plus, I’m not very good at it. But as we’re facing a bleak financial winter – with near ten per cent inflation and energy bills and mortgage rates surging – I decide it’s time to learn.

I hit the high street in the Hertfordshire town of Bishop’s Stortford to see how much I can save.

I tried independent shops, high street giants, supermarkets and tackled my broadband provider over the phone. After honing my technique, I surprised myself by managing to save hundreds of pounds. Here is how I did it.

GROCERIES

I start at independent grocery store Bishop’s Food Centre, which sells fruit and vegetables alongside cupboard staples.

I spy irresistible juicy mandarin oranges and pick out half a dozen, which come to £2.75 when weighed. Waving a £5 note, I ask manager Beytullah Topal if I can pay £2 instead. He gives me a nod and hands me back £3 in change.

Beytullah explains that haggling is increasingly common as families struggle with the cost of living. ‘It is all about supporting the community,’ he says. ‘If someone is a bit short of cash then I am happy to help if I can – within reason. As a business it also creates a loyal customer base for me during challenging times.’

Emboldened by my success, I head to Sainsbury’s to try my luck. I ask a shop assistant if there is any flexibility on the cost of my shopping and she looks at me askance.

But she confides there is a way to get lower prices – but only for the eagle-eyed. If I spot damaged packaging, I can take the goods to the customer services counter and they may knock off up to ten per cent.

A ripped £4.80 box of PG Tips teabags, a cracked lid on a £7 jar of Nescafe coffee, a battered £3.50 box of Kellogg’s cornflakes and a dented tin of £1 Heinz baked beans totals £16.30 – and a saving of £1.63.

SAVING: £2.38

VERDICT: Big-hearted traders deserve our support.

I start at independent grocery store Bishop’s Food Centre, pictured, which sells fruit and vegetables alongside cupboard staples

CLOTHES

In need of a new suit, I head to independent family retailer Aristocrat, which has been dressing the residents of Bishop’s Stortford for three decades.

Owner Lawrence Taylor is not pushy and allows me to browse before offering guidance.

I find a suit that fits me perfectly and ask Lawrence if there is room for haggling.

If I buy a shirt, tie and shoes as well, he is happy to offer me a discount of £144 on items priced at £1,244. As a bonus, he also agrees to adjust the trouser length, while the free hour of his sartorial guidance was priceless.

Next I head to Marks & Spencer to see if I could have got myself a bigger discount there.

Assistant Monica stands her ground and will not cut me a deal, even if I agree to buy accessories or a second suit.

However, she suggests I scour M&S’s website for online exclusives instead. Here I find a suit discounted by 35 per cent to £195. Although this is a sale price and not a haggle, I would have missed the deal if I hadn’t tried to get a bargain.

SAVING: £144

VERDICT: Smart way to look sharp.

In need of a new suit, I head to independent family retailer Aristocrat, pictured, which has been dressing the residents of Bishop’s Stortford for three decades

5 TIPS ON HAGGLING I LEARNT 

  • BE charming and polite – it works much better than being demanding or rude.
  • ASK open-ended questions to get the best price, rather than demanding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to specific discounts, as it opens up negotiations. And leaving a pause after asking for a better price can make a seller more likely to talk to fill the silence and offer a cheaper deal.
  • TALK to the boss if possible – they are the ones with the power to decide on a deal.
  •  BE flexible. If you can’t get a lower price, ask if they might throw in some free extras or offer a better deal if you buy multiple items.
  • LOOK for imperfections to knock down costs. Showroom pieces and returned goods are easier to negotiate over. End-of-season items and those already in a sale are simpler to haggle over as the shop wants them gone.

 

ELECTRONICS

Rickmores Electrical Centre is an Aladdin’s cave that stocks everything from traditional light bulbs to vacuum cleaners, fridges and washing machines.

When I ask for a discount, I’m told it will be difficult because prices are already cut to the bone to compete with online shops and giant retail park stores that do not offer the same level of personal service.

However, co-owner John Barker tells me they do their best to get a bargain for customers, so it can be worth asking.

‘We do not want to lose customers and can talk directly to suppliers to see if they have end-of-line stock on special offer, and will pass on any savings directly to you,’ he says.

‘Buying two or more larger items from the same manufacturer also makes it easier to provide a discount on the asking price.’

None of the major electrical chains have stores in Bishop’s Stortford, so I try haggling at the branch of Currys on Kensington High Street, West London, near where I work.

I see a 55in Samsung TV is on sale for £499 – already £150 off. Next to it is a sign promising: ‘You won’t get it cheaper.’ That sounds like a challenge to me, so I scour the internet and find that an outfit called Sonic Direct is selling the same model for £479. I show the offer to sales assistant Mike, who is more than happy to price-match.

Delivery within 48 hours for a four-hour time slot is usually £35, but with a spot of friendly banter, the charge is waived.

SAVING: £55

VERDICT: Open to offers for big-ticket items.

FURNITURE

Back in Bishop’s Stortford, a banner hangs outside the Elements Home And Garden showroom stating: ‘No reasonable offer refused on all garden furniture show models.’

Emboldened, I ask owner Russell Worricker for a 20 per cent discount. That, I swiftly learn, is not going to get me anywhere.

Russell is an old hand at haggling, so imparts a bit of wisdom about the best approach. He tells me that instead of talking percentages, I should have started with an open question such as: ‘What is the best deal you can do for me?’

He adds that it is important to leave room for negotiation: ‘If you say ‘Take it or leave it’, then I will leave it, thank you very much. But we might be able to meet somewhere in the middle.’

Russell admits charm and banter help, and if my next haggling attempt goes well, he might throw in up to four weatherproof scatter cushions that sell for £60 each.

Armed with this information, I set my sights on a suite comprising two sofas, a corner chair and table.

It is already on sale for a bargain £2,999, down from a retail price of £3,699. Initially I make a cheeky offer of £2,000, but Russell is not interested. We meet in the middle at £2,500, and he makes good on his promise to throw in the weatherproof cushions. That’s a total saving of £739.

Next I try out my newly learnt techniques at the Wilko store, where supervisor Sonia is willing to strike a deal with me if I am buying a handful of major items. She confesses that there is wriggle room for up to 20 per cent off, although it would have to be approved by her manager.

SAVING: £739

VERDICT: Wheeler-dealer heaven.

UTILITY BILLS 

I phone BT in the hope of knocking down the cost of my broadband bill. I speak to Danii from Newcastle and start by trying to butter her up by explaining how much I love her name. It gets me nowhere.

Next, I ask for a better deal by explaining that my current download speed is a pitiful nine megabits per second on average – these days that’s not much better for communication than using two tin cans tied to a piece of string. But, again, it gets me nowhere.

Then, as a last-ditch attempt at a bargain, I throw in the white lie that TalkTalk has offered me a better deal.

It works – up to a point – and Danii cuts the price slightly, which will save me about £80 over the 24-month contract.

Until recently, I would have tried to haggle over my gas and electricity bills as well. However, most suppliers now charge about the same since the new limit was introduced on Saturday which should keep average bills at around £2,500 a year.

SAVING: £3.44 a month

VERDICT: Pathetic, with no reward for loyalty.

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